FARGO, N.D. - As horse trainers go, Sharlene Reuer might be in a league of her own.

The rural Jamestown, N.D., woman is one of just a handful of women trainers, preparing for the opening weekend of racing at the North Dakota Horse Park here Saturday and Sunday, July 14 and 15.

She owns and works exclusively with American Quarter Horses, which are the short-distance sprinters.

She compares her work to that of a teacher's.

"Then it's our big hurrah, the day we race, to see if we did it right," Reuer said.

More often than not, she's taught well.

Reuer is the only multiple graded stakes winner in North Dakota. Graded stakes races are those with purses of more than $75,000 that horses must qualify to run in.

Mike Schmitz, general manager of the North Dakota Horse Park, calls Reuer the "barn mom," whose work ethic earns respect from many around her.

While most trainers have several people helping them, Reuer is usually on her own.

"Yet she'll be the first person to drop what she's doing and help somebody else who needs a hand," Schmitz said.

In addition, Reuer breaks her own horses to ride each spring - a difficult, dangerous process.

Fellow trainer Cole Wilson, from Dunseith, N.D., calls it remarkable for a woman her age to be doing it.

"Gives you a reason not to complain," Wilson said.

Hooked on racing

Reuer received her first horse as a gift on her 10th birthday and the passion took off from there.

"Growing up, that was my stable, really, was my horse. That was my best friend, my best buddy," she said.

Years later, after she married Randy Reuer, the couple brought three horses to race at a small fair in Milnor, N.D.

"We entered three times, and we won all three times. And that's like the hook, line and sinker that gets you every time," she said.

Since then, she's worked with many other trainers and horse owners, and enjoys seeing how they do things. However, Reuer stays true to herself.

"When I go back to my barn with my horses, I still do it my way," she said.

A horse trailer home

After Fargo, Reuer will move on with her horses to the larger Prairie Meadows Racetrack in Altoona, Iowa, where she'll stay in a small dorm room for the racing season.

At some racing locales, she lives in her horse trailer.

"I call it my tiny house," she said, with a laugh.

She does without a TV or bathroom in her trailer, but makes it work because it's what she wants to do. "It's all for the love of it, because I love the horses," she said.

Being on site, and spending a lot of time in the barn, allows her to understand the personality of each horse.

Reuer hangs a stuffed teddy bear over the stall of 6-year-old mare Bigtime Folly because it helps calm her.

The baby of the bunch, Freefall N Cowboy, is playful and loves to be hugged.

"He always wants attention and sometimes pouts when he doesn't get it," Reuer said.

Looking for courage

Freefall N Cowboy got his first racing start recently in Belcourt, N.D. Reuer said he ran well, except for being spooked by the crowd.

While wins are nice, kind of the "frosting on the cake," she's more interested in seeing her horses thrive and improve.

"When they dig deep, that's the courage I'm looking for," she said.

About 200 horses are expected to be on hand opening weekend in Fargo. Live racing also takes place the two following weekends.

Reuer can't wait and hopes a big crowd turns out.

"There's nothing like a race," she said.

If you go

WHAT: Live horse racing

WHERE: North Dakota Horse Park, 5180 19th Ave. N., Fargo

WHEN: 1 p.m. July 14-15 and 21-22; 5:30 p.m. July 27; and 4:30 p.m. July 28

NOTE TO DRIVERS: The park is inaccessible from 19th Avenue North and 45th Street due to road construction. Access from the west instead.